Reports Of Rape Linked To Online Dating On The Rise

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Reports of online dating-related rape have risen by more than 450 percent in six years, according to the UK's National Crime Agency.

Between 2009 and 2014, the number of reports of serious sexual assaults during first face-to-face meetings following initial contact online rose in the UK from 33 to 184 – a nearly sixfold increase. With around seven million UK residents currently using dating sites, that number is a small fraction of total online encounters – but its growth is still a reminder that safety is an important concern when dating online.

“Early analysis indicates that the online dating phenomenon has produced a new type of sexual offender,” reads the NCA's report on the subject. “These offenders are less likely to have criminal convictions, but instead exploit the ease of access and arm-chair approach to dating websites. This is aided by potential victims not thinking of them as strangers, but someone they have got to know.”

Becaue online relationships tend to progress more quickly than those that begin offline, online daters often have a heightened (and misleading) sense of emotional intimacy. By the time they meet in real life, they falsely believe they are at a more advanced stage of the relationship than they really are. In turn, they are comfortable taking more risks than they normally would and can find themselves in vulnerable situations. That, the NCA posits, is why attacks are most often committed during the first face-to-face meetings.

Looking deeper at the stats, the majority of the victims were women. Eighty-five percent of those reporting rapes were female and 15 percent were men. In spite of safety warnings issued by dating services, police and rape-prevention groups, many opt not to hold their first dates in public spaces. As a result, 71% of the alleged rapes were committed at the victim's or offender's residence.

The National Crime Agency strongly emphasized that the increased risk associated with certain online dating behaviors does not mean blame should be placed on victims.

"A rape victim is never at fault and we do not want the circumstances in which these assaults take place to cause any victim to doubt that," said Sean Sutton, Head of the NCA's Serious Crimes Analysis Section. "Sexual assault is a crime, full stop, and we want victims to feel confident reporting it to the police."

For more information on preventing rape and sexual assault in an online dating context, the NCA recommends visiting Get Safe Online, an initiative supported by the government. The initiative's extenstive guidelines can help daters stay safe when meeting face-to-face.